In a new time-lapse video, NASA’s Mars Opportunity takes an 11-year journey across 26 miles of the red planet.
As NASA continues to work toward sending humans to Mars, people who prefer to view the red planet from the comfort of their homes are in luck. On July 13, the space agency released an 8-minute time-lapse video of Mars Opportunity.
From January 2004 to April 2015, the exploration rover roamed 26.2 miles from where it first landed. Pretty good for a rover that was only designed with a 90-day life expectancy.
“It’s a marathon run across another planet!” Mike Deliman wrote on his Facebook page following the video’s debut.
As part of the senior technical staff at Wind River, the Intel subsidiary behind the smart software powering the Opportunity rover and other spacecraft, Deliman knows how much work goes into these projects.
Wind River’s smart software is called VxWorks, and Opportunity isn’t its only trip to the solar system. In 2012, the real-time operating system helped the rover Curiosity manage avionics, collect data and more.
While the Mars Science Laboratory flight team created a plan to get Curiosity to Mars, the software did a lot of the heavy lifting. And Curiosity has a pretty major job to do.
According to the Mars Exploration Rover goals, the spacecraft is responsible for helping with four endeavors:
- Determine whether Life ever arose on Mars.
- Characterize the Climate of Mars.
- Characterize the Geology of Mars.
- Prepare for Human Exploration.
And because Mars is, at any given time, between 36 million to more than 250 million miles away, radio signals can take up to 22 minutes to reach the rover’s receiver. This means that Curiosity was on its own during the landing sequence and NASA officials had to wait an excruciating 14 minutes to find out whether the landing was a success.
NASA even created a trailer for the treacherous landing.
With Opportunity the operating system accomplishes similar feats.
It autonomously guides the rover across the dusty red planet — all while sticking a landing that requires braking from 13,000 mph to 2 mph, making thousands of real-time decisions per second and photographing and exploring cliffs, canyons and other dangerous terrain.
This is even more impressive when considering the system’s incredibly efficient 2 megabyte OS. Here on Earth, the same system controls everything from the automotive anti-lock brakes to telecom switches that channel data over the World Wide Web.
When the rover wasn’t capturing dust storms or crater rims, VxWorks helped the rover do its day job: look for evidence of water and other interesting discoveries while steering clear of the aforementioned cliffs.
To learn more about Opportunity’s journey, watch the full time-lapse video below.
Additional reporting by Walden Kirsch and PSFK.